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FinCEN: Suspicious foreclosure rescues alert investigators

Approximately 69,000 reports of potential mortgage fraud surfaced in 2012, a steep 25% decline from 92,000 reports in 2011, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, said Monday.

But this steep drop should not be construed as improvement across the board, especially when reviewing Shasky Calvery’s full report.

Mortgage fraud in all its forms – from foreclosure rescue schemes to origination fraud – remains a big concern as the market grapples with the lingering effects of the housing bust.

Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Mortgage Bankers Association, Shasky Calvery said mortgage fraud suspicious activity reports (SARs) overall declined from 2011 to 2012, while filings on questionable foreclosure rescue scams grew both years.   

In fact, the volume of SARs referencing a suspicious rescue initiative nearly doubled from 2,800 filings in 2011 to 4,400 reports in 2012.

"Our analysis reflects that this could be partly a function of scammers finding opportunity in the distressed part of the mortgage market, as opposed to new loan origination," Shasky Calvery said. "And it may also be the result of increased awareness of foreclosure rescue scams, given the focus on this issue during the past several years."

The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force in October 2012 released the results of a yearlong initiative to bring mortgage-fraud scammers to justice.

At the time, the initiative, led by the FBI, resulted in the charging of 530 criminal defendants – 172 of them executives.

In addition, the investigated cases involved more than 73,000 homeowners with total losses borne by those victims reaching $1 billion, Shasky Calvery noted.

FinCEN also is benefitting from the release of updated forms for filing SAR reports. The new documents expand upon the type of suspicious activities lenders and servicers can file with the investigative body.

For example, the new FinCEN SAR form allows filers to report on specific types of questionable activity, such as reverse mortgage issues, loan modification scams, appraisal fraud and deceptive foreclosure rescues.

The reports correspond with FinCEN's new Query system, allowing the enforcement team to better analyze and organize the information.

Many of the suspicious activity reports come from financial firms, making the participation of lenders and servicers a key part of FinCEN's research efforts.

"I’m sure many of these SARs were filed by the institutions represented in this room today, so I hope you know that they are making a real difference in the work being done by our law enforcement and regulatory partners," Shasky Calvery said while speaking to the MBA conference.

kpanchuk@housingwire.com

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